Not long ago, there lived in London a young married couple of Dalmatian dogs named Pongo and Missis Pongo.
–Dodie Smith - The Hundred and One Dalmatians - c.1956, 1991
Life for Mr and Mrs Dearly and their dogs, Pongo and Misses, is going well. They live near Regent’s Park in London and are very comfortably well off, Mr Dearly having helped the government out with its sums, he doesn’t really have to worry about money any more. But one day they bump into an old school-friend of Mrs Dearly, Cruella De Vil, and she takes quite a shine to Pongo and Misses. She loves their wonderfully spotted Dalmatian coats, and when the dogs have puppies she becomes even more interested.
One day returning home from a walk the Dearlys and the Pongos are distraught to realise their fifteen puppies have disappeared! Stolen!
Mr Dearly at once offers a reward, but the dogs are not prepared to sit around and wait for their “pets” to find their puppies, they get the news out on Twilight Barking and pretty soon learn where the puppies have been taken to. Then they are off to Suffolk to rescue them.To be honest I’m presuming that the majority, if not all, of you are well aware of the plot of Dodie Smith’s novel. Perhaps more from the Disney films than the books, but most people know all about Cruella De Vil and her plans for Dalmatian fur coats.
I would say I haven’t read this book in more than twenty years, if not longer than that, but as I was reading it I could remember it all so well. Every new dog that made its appearance was an old friend. I have no idea how many times I read and reread this book as a child. I know it was a lot.
But my familiarity with it did nothing to lessen my enjoyment of it. I simply love this book. Smith’s way of telling the tale is just such a delight to read. And while the gender roles might date this book quite a lot, I can’t see any reason why a modern reader wouldn’t enjoy this book. Especially if they were a dog lover. And Cruella, although not on stage a huge amount, is a wonderful villain. The threat she poses looms over the dogs and the whole story the whole way through. If you get a chance you really should pick up this classic and give it a go. If only for the illustrations. They are simple, black and white, but so effective.
This is my first book for this year’s Once Upon a Time reading challenge, it may not be an old folk tale or fairy tale, but it has that wonderful fairy tale atmosphere that I think is such a part of OUaT. Plus, you know, talking dogs really is fantasy fiction :)